This landlocked plateau country in southern Africa takes its name from Great Zimbabwe, a fortified trading hub built in medieval times and used by the majority Shona tribe (about 70 percent of today's population). In 1890 the first British settlers arrived; colony status came in 1923 under the name Southern Rhodesia. In 1965 the white minority government unilaterally declared independence, as Rhodesia. International sanctions and guerrilla warfare against the illegal regime led to legitimately independent Zimbabwe in 1980. Although nominally a multiparty state, in practice the party of President Robert Mugabe dominates the political system.
The economy centers on farming, mining (Zimbabwe holds a tenth of the world's chromite), and manufacturing. Until drought struck in the early 1990s, the nation fed itself. Whites still own choice tracts, and land redistribution is a charged issue. Mugabe's government suddenly started seizing all white-owned commercial agricultural land in 2000. African settlers were being dumped on the land without required government support (including seed, water, and fertilizer). This chaotic land reform is causing massive declines in food production, and millions of Zimbabweans are at risk of famine. The economy is in crisis, with high inflation and unemployment rates.